A quick note on the Individual Electoral Registration vote tonight and what it means, since I fear it will be badly reported elsewhere. As readers may know, electoral registration has now moved over from household registration (where one member of the household filled in a form to register everyone) to individual registration (there is still a household form to sign off for no change, but new registrations need to be done individually). Making it a little harder to register has created a lot of concern about whether it will lead to falling registration, particularly in residential communities like student halls of residence, where in the past the university authority could have registered everyone en masse.

That, however, is for another time. Tonight’s vote isn’t about the principle of individual registration and will make no difference to whether it happens or not. It is on one narrow, but important, part of the transition from household registration to individual registration.

The normal process of electoral registration is – crudely speaking – that once a year there is a canvas of every household, asking people if their details on the electoral register are correct. Local councils will remove entries that are no longer accurate and add on new people. People who don’t reply at all will be badgered with extra letters and knocks on the door, but eventually some people won’t reply. Those people are left on the register for a year, and then if they don’t reply to two canvasses in a row, deleted from the register. People get one year’s grace without being removed.

During the transition process that was different. The annual canvas in 2014 was cancelled for the transition process – people on the old register were matched against government databases, like benefits records, and those who matched were automatically moved across to the new system. Only people who couldn’t be automatically moved across were contacted and required to register on the new system. There was no cleaning of the register though, even if they couldn’t be automatically moved and across and didn’t respond to contacts, people on the old register were kept on the new Dec 2014 register to make sure they didn’t miss out on the general election.

For 2015 the annual canvas was started again, so every household got a letter asking people to confirm their existing details on the register. People who reply were updated (though new people now need to fill in an individual registration) and people who didn’t reply at all were chased. The question to be decided tonight is what to do with people who didn’t reply (or more specifically, people who don’t reply this year and weren’t verified or registered last year either – the year’s grace remains either way).

The legislation setting up individual registration said that people who don’t reply in 2015 should NOT be removed in 2015, but also specifically gave the government the power to change this by statutory instrument and recommence cleaning in 2015 if they preferred. The Electoral Commission recommended the government did not do this, and gave people the extra year’s grace. This is what tonight’s vote is on – are people who weren’t transitioned or re-registered on the new system in 2014 AND did not reply to this year’s electoral canvas left on the register or not?

In May 2015 there were 1.9m people still on the register who hadn’t been registered under the new system. Of course, all of these entries will not be removed, as there has been a full canvas since then and many of them will have replied to this year’s canvas and now be on the new system. It is still likely to be a substantial number. The change only affects people who replied to the electoral canvas at an address in 2013, but have not subsequently replied to electoral registration officers at that address since then, when during that time efforts will have been made to contact them several times for the transition to individual voting and in this year’s annual canvass. They will probably have had to ignore about nine letters reminding them to register. They also need to not be in receipt of benefits at that address and not on other government databases used for data matching, or they would have been automatically registered. In short, a lot of those people probably couldn’t be matched because they don’t live at that address any more, and may or may not be living or registered somewhere else. Finally, it’s worth remembering that people who are left off this December’s register can register to vote up until a couple of weeks before the local/mayoral/police/Scottish/Welsh elections next year.

In terms of the impact on individual voters, I fear there is some hyperbole going on. However, the impact of the vote isn’t just on individual voters, it’s important for another reason – arguably more so. The registers published on the 1st December this year are the ones that will be used for the new boundary review, and the removal of these rolled over names will make a difference. In the twenty council areas with the highest number of people held over from the 2013 register, about 11% of people on the register in May 2015 were held over, in the twenty council areas with the lowest number of people rolled over about 1% of people on the register in May 2015 were held over. The places with lots of held over entries are mostly (but not exclusively) Labour held areas, the places with few held over entries are mostly (but not exclusively) Conservative held areas. Again, remember many of these people will probably have been picked up in this year’s canvas, so it doesn’t mean 11% and 1% will be removed – the numbers will be lower than that – but it does mean the number of people on the registers will drop more in Labour areas than in Conservative areas.

Cleaning people who have not responded to the canvas off the register will decrease the registered electorate in inner-city Labour areas and make the boundary review better for the Conservatives. Leaving them on will make the boundary review better for Labour. We don’t know what proportion of the rolled over entries on the register relate to real people still living at those addresses and what proportion are “dead entries” related to people who no longer live at that address. The Conservatives can argue that leaving inaccurate entries on the register would skew the review by bumping up the electorate in areas with inaccurate registers full of outdated entries, Labour can argue that harshly pruning the register would skew the review by under-representing the electorate in areas of social-deprivation with populations who are less likely to register to vote. I suspect neither are entirely free from self-interest, but one way or the other it has to be decided: Parliament has until Monday to annul the statutory instrument or it remains law.

103 Responses to “A note about tonight’s IER vote”

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  1. @Anthony Wells

    Consider these two groups:

    Group A
    – Responded to YouGov survey
    – Intended to vote (and said they would in pre-election surveys)
    – Did not register to vote (something your scrutiny of the marked register will confirm)

    Group B
    – Not on YouGov panel
    – Intended to vote
    – Did not register to vote

    It sounds like you’ll be able to track down the incidence of Group A. By making comparisons with the rest of your responding panel you might conclude that although there are a few more in that group than in previous general elections, the proportionate size of the group (perhaps 1% of your panel respondents) is still so small that they made next to no difference to the result.

    However, Group A is only small because they needed to organise themselves to get on the panel and respond to YouGov in the first place – i.e. characteristics almost the opposite of the pretty disorganised people who engage only half heartedly in political discourse, from which you can expect large numbers to fail to register to vote if the system makes it at all difficult for them to do so. Those will be the sort of people disproportionately likely to be found in Group B, which could be proportionately much larger.

    I’m not saying that YouGov surveys of their respondents are unlikely to discover that IER did contribute to the polling failure. I think you’ll find some effect. However, what I think is a real risk is that you conclude that the effect was much less than its true scale. A panel biased towards responders rather than non-responders (to YouGov surveys) could be expected to understate the scale of a problem of non-respondance (to electoral registers) almost by definition.

    In short, you need to be alert that, if as I expect you track down the iceberg, below the unseen waterline it could still be much larger than you expect.

  2. I am mildly surprised to learn that YouGov’s post-election inquest includes comparing respondents’ stated intention to vote and recollection of voting with their individual voting record. It seems a bit intrusive, but hey-ho, if you sign up for a polling panel I suppose you must expect to be scrutinised.

    However, if that analysis is performed, it will surely throw up lots of interesting data on likelihood actually to vote, by VI, sex, age, social class etc.

    If that’s indeed the case (I may well have misunderstood), will the data be published? And will individual panel members in future be ‘graded’ by likelihood to vote, rather than weighted en mass?e

  3. It would appear that where Crossbat leads, others follow. This from John Harris in tomorrow’s Guardian: –

    “But just about every key element of the UK’s constitutional arrangements now seems to be foundering, and is unlikely to be revived. Our electoral system disenfranchises millions and sustains a two-party system that no one believes in any more; a union of nations built on wildly uneven representation is pulling itself apart. The case for a watershed conversation about how we are governed – possibly including politicians, but ideally keeping them at arm’s length – looks overwhelming, and the Lords ought to be among the first things up for discussion.”

    Do you think he read my earlier post of 4.18pm?


  4. Somerjohn

    Different people might well mean different things when they say 9/10 likely to vote.

    Certainly it is likely to have some bearing, I’ve always felt it should be treated with a pinch of salt. For one it might be a true 9/10 for another it might be a lot lower. Taking their answers as The Truth always did seem a bit odd to me.

    If such data was available, I’d love to get my hands on it and throw some machine learning techniques at it and see if I could get a better prediction of likelihood to vote.

    Ideally, the cumulative likelihood to vote of a poll before an election SHOULD reflect the actual turnout. If it’s way out, making the assumption that it’ll be the same factor out for every party seems really bizarre. Even if it’s accurate it could just be that you are out the same amount in opposite directions for the two main parties.

  5. Alan

    Given the huge amount of data YouGov must have on every aspect of its panel members’ lives, if it really gets to work on establishing correlations between this and propensity to vote (which is where I suppose your machine learning techniques come in – is that the same as artificial intelligence?) that might transform polling, or rather the production of election predictions.

    So it seems conceivable that by the next election YouGov and other pollsters will be able to ascribe a likelihood to vote factor to every panel member, replacing bulk weighting. Any thoughts, AW?

  6. I take Couper’s point that constituency sizes should be based on the (adjusted) census records rather than voter registrations, though I’d like to see the detail of exactly how the census records are adjusted.

    But on IER why is there a problem? If an individual of voting age can’t be bothered to register, so what? Why should they have any entitlement to representation?

  7. Alan – “If such data was available, I’d love to get my hands on it and throw some machine learning techniques at it and see if I could get a better prediction of likelihood to vote.”

    It is! The BES always do the checking against the marked register (though not always for both the face-to-face and online parts of the study – I think they only did it for face-to-face last time) and their data sets are in the public domain.

    So if you go here and download the 2010 BES data, it has whether people said they voted… and what the marked register said when they checked, same for 2005 and 2001.


  8. Somerjohn – YouGov won’t do it for the whole panel, hell no. Only political parties, the electoral commission and suchlike have access to computerised versions of the marked electoral register and the ability to turn them into mass databases of whether people voted.

    We civilians have to physically travel to electoral services departments, look at the paper copies and mark off individual panellists by hand – so we’ve done a sample of several thousand to help us diagnose the problems of the election polling… but doing the whole panel? No :)

  9. AW

    Thanks for that! I’m sure it’ll be an opportunity to waste many hours/weeks/months/lifetimes.


    Yes, Machine Learning is synonymous with artificial intelligence, (also called Deep Learning by some) There is a tendency for the side that makes predictions and classifications to be called Machine Learning and the optimal decision making side of it to be called Artificial Intelligence.

    Essentially it calls for a more powerful set of relationships than a simple multivariate linear regression (or logistical regression) can make. The optimal relationships are calculated through computational methods. (which makes it a powerful generalised technique).

    The end result is a bit of a black box, with the justification that this particular black box is more optimal than any other black box. You can extract certain features to see which are the important features to create the predictions but it eliminates the “I think this feature should be more important because [anecdote]”

    There are potential problems with Machine Learning in that it is such a powerful technique it can overfit the data supplied, implying it discovered a very good solution, which in fact doesn’t generalise well. The equivalent of drawing a very wiggly line exactly through every data point, the more wiggly you allow yourself to draw the line, the better it fits that particular dataset but it’s unlikely that the very wiggly line will generalise well to the next data set.

    Bit of a ramble, but the upshot is, that once a set of relationships that seem to generalise well are discovered, using the relationship to calculate a “predicted likelihood to vote” could be done on an individual level.

    The technique is currently used to calculate click through rates (and so to send optimised advertising at an individual level). Predicting voting rates should be a lot simpler than that.

    Another question it might be able to answer is “Based on the responses in a poll can we infer anything about how a person who withholds their preference (or even those that express a preference, as some will vote a different way) will actually vote?” The answer will of course be probabilistic so when scaled up to the macro level it should make sense (noone in practice can award 0.78 of a vote to any one party). Right now Pollsters have various ways to reallocate the will not says based on their experience and “historically it’s got us somewhere close to the right answer”.

    I suspect a lot of factors they use (such as past vote) will be important but there will be other important factors that are omitted because of a fear of introducing a specific bias that looks too much like a “fudge”.

  10. Alan

    Well, that’s very interesting. It seems from AW’s reply that the only thing stopping YouGov doing this (apart from maybe resources) is lack of access to the computerised marked electoral register.

    Having completed a lot of YouGov surveys, I know that if ever all my responses are collated they will have a pretty full profile of my tastes, preferences, financial status and decisions, buying habits and so on almost ad infinitum.

    I have this vague idea that there may be some powerfully predictive characteristics (or more likely, combination of dozens or hundreds of characteristics) that may in themselves look totally irrelevant to propensity to vote, but could be revealed by machine learning. Something like choice of bank, living in road/avenue/street/close, ability to choose correctly between its and it’s…

  11. @Pete B

    “But on IER why is there a problem? If an individual of voting age can’t be bothered to register, so what? Why should they have any entitlement to representation?”

    It’s fairly simple to explain actually: human psychology (or more specifically nudge theory). Making something ‘opt-in’ instead of ‘opt-out’, or automatic, can have a disproportionate effect on the take up of something, irrespective of whether or not the person actually wants to do it. It may only take half-an-hour to get registered but that can still impact on people doing so (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of having some small task to do, but putting it off for hours or days on the grounds that ‘it’ll only take five minutes, so I’ll just do it tomorrow’). That’s why it’s wrong: a lot of people are not going to be registered and be unable to vote regardless of whether they want to vote or not. It’s also most likely to affect the young, the working-age and the poor, who will have less time/energy to do the registration process.

    (Cameron is a big fan of Nudge, the book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein which explained this, so he’s well aware of what the effect of what he’s pushing through will be.)

    It’s the same reason why union contributions were changed from opt-out to opt-in – it was widely recognized that this would have a disproportionate effect on the contributions, regardless of whether or not the person actually wanted to contribute or not. It’s also the reason why polling booths are stationed everywhere on voting day; the easier they are to access the more likely people are too vote.

  12. @Pete B
    ” If an individual of voting age can’t be bothered to register, so what? Why should they have any entitlement to representation?”

    I am dissatisfied with a system that leads to 60% of people who moved home within a year being left off the register, and 23% of those who moved home between 1 and 2 years ago, as opposed to 6% of people who had lived at the same address for the last 16 years. Or for example 37% of those renting privately being left off, as opposed to 6% of those owning their home outright.

    Does that alter your view that there is nothing amiss?

    With such deep disparities, it’s clearly not in the main down to the attitude of individuals and whether they “bother”. Rather it’s down to the design of systems which make it harder than it should for some people in particular situations to exercise their democratic rights.

    Those figures, incidentally, are from the last set of research by the EC, conducted on the Feb 2014 registers compiled under the old household system. When we eventually get an equivalent set showing the detailed outcome under IER, they are bound to be even worse. For example, we already know that the number of 16 to 17 year old attainers who found their way onto the register halved in 2015 compared to the Feb 2014 register, even though only 51% were registered even in Feb 2014.

  13. @Pete B

    “But on IER why is there a problem? If an individual of voting age can’t be bothered to register, so what? Why should they have any entitlement to representation?”

    If there is any evidence that IER leads to higher levels of voter registration, then I’d be in favour of it, but there isn’t; in fact the opposite may well be true. I don’t share your insouciance about declining voter registration and I think we should do everything we can to increase the numbers who are registered and entitled to vote, even if many of those currently off the register are in that position because of apathy and disinterest. I’d like us to get to a situation where when you reach voting age you are more or less automatically registered and entitled to vote. The means to that end may be many and varied, but the intention should be to get to an electorate that is as near as possible to 100% of the adult population

    Of course, on actual polling day, it’s then completely up to you whether or not you exercise your right to cast a vote, although I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the Australian model where voting is seen as a civic duty and obligation and it’s compulsory to do so. .

  14. @ Anthony Wells

    Only political parties, the electoral commission and suchlike have access to computerised versions of the marked electoral register

    My understanding is that CLPs get paper copies from which they input data (for their own constituency) manually into the system. Hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of hours just updating the existing records after each election. Heaven only knows how many volunteer hours were needed to key in the original data in the first place!

  15. SomerJohn

    Exactly, it’s the combinations of the characteristics that prove to be particularly powerful. Also for characteristics that run in continuous terms (such as height as opposed to gender) handling them in non-linear ways adds a lot of power too.

    It’s this combination of non-linear responses and working with the combinations of inputs that was inspired from how neurons work. Just like the aerofoil doesn’t replicate a birds wing, it certainly drew inspiration from it. The neural network drew inspiration from how the brain works and it’s power is no less remarkable.

    It’s real power has only been accessible recently due to improvements both in computing resources but in improvements in the algorithms used. The former allow you to store the large programs but the latter allows you to perform these calculations within the lifetime of the universe. Moore’s law is impressive, but it has nothing on the speedups gained by the improvements to algorithms.

  16. @Crossbat11
    “I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the Australian model where voting is seen as a civic duty and obligation and it’s compulsory to do so.”

    Partlcularly important in this context are the simple steps they take in Australia to make sure that people can’t opt out by failing to register:
    “The AEC receives external data from a range of federal and state departments and agencies to use in the management of the electoral roll. The external data received may include details of an individual’s surname, given name(s), date of birth, and address.
    That data is then examined and matched against the electoral roll to identify people who are entitled to enrol and are not currently enrolled, and those who are entitled to enrol and vote and require an update to their enrolment details.”

    and now this further step is taken across the whole of Australia, as opposed to only some states previously:

    “New laws passed by the Australian Parliament allow the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to directly enrol you or update your details on the electoral roll based on information from other government agencies. We will write to you and let you know if we intend to add your name and address to the electoral roll or update your details. You do not need to reply to the letter if the details are correct. If the details are incorrect, you have 28 days to let us know.”

    So effective is the Australian system that they don’t even need to resort to the (entirely ineffective and never enforced) UK system of threatening to fine people who don’t respond.

  17. Phil – IIRC a government minster was talking about the possibility of adopting similar measures here earlier in the week – let me see if I can dig it out.

    Amber – the Conservatives used to do the same. A computerised version of the marked register is a new relatively new thing, and I don’t know if all councils have it – but certainly many do, and where it does exist, political parties have a right to receive it.

  18. Phil –

    Here’s the speech I was thinking of – John Penrose floating the idea of councils not requiring people to register every year if they have other evidence that they are at the same address, such as council tax, parking permits etc.

    And getting people registered at other points of contact with government, like passport applications, benefit applications, driving licences.


    (though you’d have to wade through several paragraphs about IER at the start which you’ll hate. For the sake of your blood pressure you might want to skip those)

  19. @Phil Haines

    That’s interesting stuff from Australia and rather reinforces my earlier point that where there’s a will there’s a way. There may be more administrative challenges in the UK, and we do have a much bigger population than Australia, but what they do to make sure their electoral register is more or less complete sounds eminently sensible to me.

    If we’ve got 7.5 million potential voters missing from the electoral register, then there’s something seriously amiss with our current system I would think, and the Electoral Commission, who may know a thing or two about such matters, have gone on record as saying that they believe IER will only exacerbate the problem rather than ameliorating it.

  20. @Anthony Wells

    It is indeed interesting given the source and timing.

    However, at the risk of being a bit cynical, given that non-registration of ex-pats was singled out, is he angling for a means to put 2 million ex-pats automatically onto the UK electoral roll?

    Luckily I took the precaution of taking my blood pressure tablet before reading the claim that each person has received 9 contacts. In fact it was perfectly possible for an old entry on the register to meet a data match against official DWP records in the Spring of 2014, only to subsequently move out, with every follow up piece of correspondence in 2014 being personally addressed to the old occupier (which would presumably then have been forwarded or more likely binned by the new occupier). That was a consequence of the disasterous decision of the EC to scrap the annual household canvass form in 2014, in contrast to 2013 and 2015 when it was reinstated after the horse had bolted. Prior to the election period, there was just one communication addressed to the householder in general, a notification letter of who was registered sent in Feb 2015, mirroring the practice in 2010. Even that doesn’t seem to have been planned for initially, but rather it was accepted by the Electoral Commission only after they woke up to the scale of the fall in the initial December 2014 registers.

    I’m sure that the polling companies and BES will be able to see through all the guff too and conduct their enquiries accordingly.

  21. Two EU polls today (from Britain Elects)

    Remain: 40%
    Leave: 40%
    (via YouGov / 22 – 27 Oct)

    Remain: 45% (+1)
    Leave: 38% (-)
    (via ICM / 23 – 25 Oct)

  22. Arn’t you supposed to register on the electoral roll or face a fine of £1000?

    If people arn’t registering it’s easy to solve. Just hire a bunch of people to hunt out the non-registers and give them a bounty for each person they find – say £50 a person. The council can keep the balance of the £1000.

    If there are really 7.5 million people not registered, that’s a small fortune in fines that councils could use very handily.

    Of course make sure there’s lots of publicity beforehand with an amnesty period so people have the chance to register before getting caught. If people still don’t register after that, then it serves them right if they get fined.

    Nothing stopping councils taking the initiative on “hunt the non registerers” either, they don’t have to wait for central govt. Should be a nice fund raiser for them and by the next election, everyone should be on the roll :-)

  23. Councils don’t get the fines, the money goes to the courts. The council gets a small cost award that doesn’t come close to covering the legal costs.

  24. @Thiswillhavetodo

    So perhaps the devolution-to-councils stuff should include allowing them to keep the fines for local by-laws being broken?

    I understand that the Scottish referendum experience showed that a lot of people who hadn’t been registered and then registered for the referendum were tax dodgers – they had gone off the register during the poll tax era and were off it ever since. If something similar happened in England, then there is a lot of back tax to be collected too.

    Give councils an incentive to get people registered and they will do the job pretty zealously…

  25. In a truly liberal society that respects the freedom of individuals, I think forcing people to either register to vote or vote itself (and fine them if they don’t) is entirely wrong.

    It should be my right (in my view) to abstain from registering to vote or to choose not vote.

    Of course, many of those people who don’t register are amongst the poorest in society, and fining them £1,000 would cause severe hardship and financial difficulty.

    A forced democracy is in itself not worthy of the title ‘democracy’.

  26. @CatManJeff

    The law’s the law and with electoral registration, it’s been in force since 1832. You can’t pick and choose which laws to comply with – and this one is really easy to comply with.

    We either enforce the law to ensure compliance and get everyone on the register. Or we ignore it and people stop bleating about how some people are wilfully not complying…

  27. Omnishambles

    The YG poll covered 6 and a bit European countries (GB being the bit, since the UK is the member state)

    Country : Remain : Leave (Odd way to ask the question in Norway)

    GB : 40% : 40%
    Ger : 55% : 27%
    Fra 47% : 30%
    Den : 53% : 31%
    Swe : 47% : 37%
    Fin : 48% : 32%
    Nor : 17% : 68%


  28. Our local electoral registration officer cited the example of a neighbouring council that took a couple of non-registration cases to court a few years, on which they wasted enormous amounts of officer time which could have been far better spent, with I think the outcome being that they “won” the case only for the court to award a paltry sanction. The neighbouring council concluded that it was an utter waste of time and didn’t repeat the exercise. Our own ERO and all the other West Midlands councils which were keeping an eye on the outcome drew the same conclusion.

  29. @Phil @Candy

    I think Phil’s story shows that laws can become so silly, unenforceable and ridiculous that they become ignored in reality.

    The public works in such a way that they can may such laws in practice redundant.

  30. Correction

    The public works in such a way that they can make such laws in practice redundant.

  31. @CMJ
    “In a truly liberal society that respects the freedom of individuals, I think forcing people to either register to vote or vote itself (and fine them if they don’t) is entirely wrong.”

    What’s wrong with compulsory registration and compulsory voting provided you can actively abstain (I.e. vote for “none of the above”)? Voting is a cornerstone of citizenship.

  32. @RAF

    If it’s compulsory it’s not compatible with a free and open society.

    I think that is quite basic and fundamental to understand really.

  33. @Phil Haines

    In that case you need to reconcile yourself to the fact that if a) people wilfully refuse to register despite the benefits (not just ability to vote but other stuff that comes with being on the register like making it easier to get a mortgage) and b) the council decides it’s not worthwhile enforcing the law, some people won’t be registered. Through the choice of all parties concerned. Accept it and move on.

  34. @CMJ
    ‘If it’s compulsory it’s not compatible with a free and open society.
    I think that is quite basic and fundamental to understand really.’

    Well, you may be taking a mathematical approach to politics. Where do you draw the line between choosing not to vote and not being sufficiently well educated to properly understand the importance of registering and voting? We know the vast majority of unregistered voters are in the poorest constituencies. To ensure we properly respect the rights of all citizens and protect the most vulnerable (yes from themselves) there is a compelling case for compulsory registration.

  35. @RAF

    I think there are plenty of very well educated people, who understand how the current system works (or more appropriately doesn’t work), and therefore makes a judgement that partaking in the system isn’t worthwhile.

    That choice should be open to people.

  36. I have long thought it an odd quirk of our system that the boundaries of constituencies and thus the nature of the final balance of party representation is derived from those registered rather than the votes cast in an actual election, as is the case in most democracies.
    Indeed, how is it a democratic principle to award representation based on those who register, rather than take into account the number of votes that are cast for each party?

  37. @Candy

    Oh I have moved on. I’m not concerned about people who wilfully refuse to register, because clearly they wouldn’t vote either. I’m concerned about those who would like to vote but are in circumstances where they can all too easily discover too late that they’ve lost the ability to exercise that right. I take it that you too are unconcerned that at any point in time, 60% of people who moved home within the past year aren’t registered at their current address.

  38. @CMJ
    “I think there are plenty of very well educated people, who understand how the current system works (or more appropriately doesn’t work), and therefore makes a judgement that partaking in the system isn’t worthwhile.”

    Indeed there are. However, the fact remains that the poorest areas of the UK generally have the lowest voter registration; whereas the wealthiest areas of the UK have the highest voter registration.

  39. Phil Haines – “60% of people who moved home within the past year aren’t registered at their current address.”

    But they will be by the next election, will they not?

    The only way to force people to register is to enforce the penalties – human nature being what it is, people won’t bother unless the cost of not doing so is higher.

    Like I said there are many benefits to being on the register beyond voting. We don’t have an ID card system so many orgs use the register to check identity, eg before agreeing mortgages or loans. Indeed the Labour party used the electoral register to check if the people taking part in their election were real and not sock puppets.

    So why would you not be on the register given all that? Perhaps you want to be under the radar. If you are not on the electoral roll how would HMRC even know where to look for you?

    If there is a tax evasion aspect to not being on the register, there is a case to be made for central govt funding councils to enforce registration (otherwise as you say, it’s not worth their while). How to tell whether it’s worth central funding? Well, we could use the events surrounding the Scottish referendum – compare the register between 2010 and 2014 for Scotland. If the new people are also not paying tax, it could be worth investigating, and if there is a lot of tax dodging, then it’s worth funding the councils everywhere in the UK to enforce the register to catch them out.

    Some people will be uncomfortable with this for ideological reasons – but remember there are many poor people who are registered and are faithfully paying all taxes due and indeed are paying more than they should because they have to subsidise the freeloaders. The cheapest system is one that eliminates freeloaders but that needs penalties to be enforced rigorously. There might be a lot of tax due that is uncollected both at local and govt level that could relieve the public finances.

    I definitely agree with the principle that everyone should be registered, everyone should pay the tax due from them and everyone should be encouraged to vote. But this needs high-profile penalties for non-registration to encourage the majority to do what they are supposed to be doing.

  40. A problem with high profile penalties for non-registration is that there are a lot of sound reasons why some people may not register such as homelessness, including those in insecure and temporary accommodation, travellers, people who are back and forth overseas for work reasons, people with mental health issues, people with significant physical disabilities, people who are illiterate or have low IQs, people experiencing life crises that might result in them forgetting or not caring about registering. The zealous pursuit and prosecution of those who don’t register would be expensive, result in the intimidation of some very vulnerable people, and would probably be logistically impossible anyway. The current arrangement may be flawed and lackadaisical but it’s preferable to the alternative, IMO.

  41. I have no problem with non-registration per se, if constituencies are decided through the census, and every effort is made to ensure people are on the register, so that you have to opt out rather than opt in. That meets catman’s requirements about a free society.

    I also favour Australia’s “compulsory” voting system (as in UK as discussed above, people are rarely fined for non-compliance, unless they make a point of it). You don’t need a “none of the above” box. You just spoil your ballot paper, or put a blank paper in the box, which I have done many times. (Given my belief, it would be hypocritical not to attend the polling station).

  42. @Candy

    I cited earlier the Australian system, where reliable government administrative records (such as the equivalent of DVLA records and DWP records) are used to track down unregistered people and, latterly, to notify them that they have been automatically added them to the register. That system is effective and so there are no sanctions necessary there.

    In the UK, electoral registration officers would indeed use their existing powers to bring unregistered people to court if they were at all effective. They don’t have enough resources as it is, especially in our new system in an era of shrinking council budgets, so they would have to divert officer time to the lengthy process needed to pursue people in court, away from all the other necessary activities that they undertake. I respect their professional judgement that this course would be a wasteful panacea.

    The figures that I cited on this thread are those quoted by the Electoral Commission based on their own snapshot surveys and I have no reason to doubt them.

    We need to accept now that the UK system is broken, and look to international examples of good practice for practical cost-effective alternatives.

  43. @Phil Haines

    Electoral registers were traditionally seen as a service to the public not an opportunity for criminalizing people.

  44. via NC


    CON 38 (-1)
    LAB 33 (+3)
    LIB 8 (-1)
    UKIP 10 (-2)
    GRN 3 (-1)
    SNP 3 (-1)

    Fieldwork 23rd-25th Oct

  45. I know there have been cases where the losing party has won the popular vote by a modest amount (1951 and Feb 1974).

    If Labour were to win the popular vote in 2020 by more than 0.5% and the Tories got a majority due to these measures, then I predict a riot.

  46. It seems to me that the most important thing in all of this is that we shouldn’t deprive people of the opportunity to vote by default. Now, we can all get on our rather pompous high horses about people we think can’t be bothered to undertake a simple process and thereby, by dint of their “laziness and apathy”, probably don’t deserve to be able to vote anyway, but I think this issue goes much deeper than that. We shouldn’t confuse it with the right to abstain either. It’s about giving every person of voting age the ability to go and vote when an election takes place. I’m in favour of compulsory voting too, certainly in General Elections, but, as John Chanin says, there’s always the proviso to spoil ones paper if all the alternatives on offer are totally unpalatable. Making it a civic duty to turn out and participate in a General Election once every five years doesn’t strike me as an infringement of any civil liberty. I’ve visited Australia many times and have yet to see too many Gulags appearing. They don’t come over as a particularly enslaved and oppressed people too!

    The current position is totally untenable. If, as predicted, another 1.5 million people drop off the register on December 1st, the electoral roll going forward into next year is likely to be almost 10 million shy of the total adult population of the UK. That’s worth repeating; 10 million adults not able to vote in elections. Add those to the 11 million on the register who now habitually don’t vote at General elections and the figures become truly frightening. Surely you can’t draw up credible constituency boundaries on data that deficient?

    Still, as long as it’s my boys who are the beneficiaries, what does it matter, I suppose?

  47. @Hawthorn

    Hopefully not too many dead in that situation.

  48. Westminster voting intention:
    CON: 37%
    LAB: 31%
    UKIP: 15%
    LDEM: 6%
    GRN: 5%
    (via BMG / 22 – 27 Oct)

    EU referendum poll:
    Remain: 41%
    Leave: 39%
    (via BMG / 22 – 27 Oct)

    Who the hell are BMG?

  49. BMG are a Birmingham based research organization, that do a lot of work for local government.

  50. @john chanin


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